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Journalist Saves Girl
October 15, 2005 permalink
This is a rare case of a girl genuinely in need of help. Social workers, who in other cases are adept at getting children in front of a camera to make damaging statements about their parents, are unable to elicit information from the girl, and have to call on a professional journalist to do so.
Little girl lost
Will the abandoned 4-year-old now get lost in the system?
NEW YORK CITY - Valery Saavedra Lozada is wide-eyed, curious and chatty. She’s an adorable, typical 4-year-old, except for one thing: For almost two weeks, this little girl has had the city of New York at her feet.
Valery’s story is so incredible it made news and captured people’s hearts across the country.
It’s a tale of trust, betrayal and abandonment. For Valery it began on a street in Queens two weeks ago. Valery says her mother’s boyfriend—a man she called “daddy”—drove up to a deserted corner in the black hours of a Sunday morning, took her out of the car, and told the little girl to walk up to a house on the block, knock on the door and ask for help.
Then Valery says her daddy got back into the car and drove away, leaving her alone in the darkness.
Georgina Visacki, who lives on the street where Valery was left to wander, heard somebody crying outside her house that night. “So I said, ‘Who’s crying at this time?’ It was like a baby,” says Visacki. Visacki says when she looked out the window she could hardly believe what she saw.
“She didn’t have any shoes or socks. I said ‘Oh my god it’s cold.’ So I just grabbed her and she held me so tight.”
Another neighbor, Kevin Flood, also ran from his home to help the distraught child. “She looked well kept,” he describes. “She just had messy hair like she was just taken out of bed.”
Valerey was crying saying “I want my mommy, I want my mommy,” though she didn’t know where her mommy was.
And with that, a mystery began. Who was Valery’s mother? And where was she? For days child welfare workers tried to coax information out of the little girl with little success. And unbelievably, no one had reported Valery missing.
Frustrated, the city’s administration for children’s services took an unusual step. It asked WNBC-TV local reporter Melissa Russo to interview Valery and tell her story, hoping someone would come forward with information about the little girl and her family.
Valery shared fragments of her life with Russo and child welfare workers. She answered questions with extraordinary calm for a traumatized four year old.
And when asked to describe her mother, her answer melted the hearts of even the most hardened New Yorkers.
“She looks like a princess,” the child described.
“People were so touched by her,” says Russo, the WNBC-TV reporter. “And she was so charming and articulate and sweet and adorable, beautiful really.”
The tactic to publicize Valery’s plight worked.
“Phones were ringing off the hook in the newsroom people calling in,” says Russo.
One of those calling into authorities was Valery’s great uncle. He provided further details about the child’s mother: 26-year-old Monica Lozada Rivadineira was an immigrant from Bolivia. She had been living in Queens with Valery and dating a man named Cesar Ascarrunz, apparently the “daddy” that Valery says abandoned her on the street.
Foster care for lost little girl
As police investigated, Children’s Services placed Valery in a foster home.
“Too many people in public believe that once we rescue children from bad situations and bad families, they’re going to be saved,” says Marsha Lowry, director of Children’s Rights, a watchdog of foster care programs throughout the country.
According to Lowry, Valery could spend a lot of time in the child welfare system. “The average length of time that a child remains in New York city’s child welfare system is 49 months, which is astronomically long,” says Lowry.
Even though Valery may be the toast of the town today, Lowry says she worries that once out of the spotlight, Valery may share the fate of so many other foster children who are shuffled from one home to the next.
“Obviously that’s a devastating experience. Once she is in many different places she’s going to be psychologically damaged. And she’s going to find it harder to find a permanent family, and that’s what happens to too many children in the system,” says Lowry.
For Valery, though, an unfamiliar home is just one new, bleak reality to absorb.
Her mother’s boyfriend is arrested
This week, New York city police arrested the man Valery called her “daddy,” saying Ascurrunz confessed to killing Valery’s mother, a charge Ascurrunz has denied. When asked about Valery’s story of that night, Ascurranz’s lawyer told “Dateline” his client had no comment.
Then late this week police made a gruesome discovery in a Pennsylvania landfill— the body of a woman fitting Monica’s description.
Now Valery’s grandmothers are each seeking custody of the little girl.
“We don’t know whether these relatives are going be found to be suitable, important question. So even with people lining up to adopt this cute little girl, she could end up in the system for years to come,” says Lowry.
The administration for Children’s Services declined our request for an on-camera interview, but said Valery is with a strong and capable foster family and it issued a statement saying it “will be meeting with all family members to assess the best possible permanency plan for Valery. When we have finished our assessment, we will make our recommendation to family court.”
In the meantime, Valery will remain a ward of the city. Those who found a frightened child outside their doors in the middle of the night are hoping this little girl can find her way home soon. “It’s heartbreaking— this poor girl and what she had to go through,” says Visacki. “What she has to go through now... it’s just not right.”